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Role of a CASA Volunteer

In 1977 King County Superior Court Judge David W. Soukup of Seattle, Washington believed that he was not getting all the facts needed to make well-informed decisions affecting the future of children coming before him in child welfare cases. While attorney guardians ad litem were being appointed to abuse and neglect cases in Seattle, they generally lacked the time and specialized training needed to thoroughly investigate these cases. Social workers had high caseloads resulting in inadequate staff to give each child individualized attention. Judge Soukup believed that someone other than an attorney could be trained to speak effectively for each child as an advocate in the courtroom, someone who would help shape the important decisions being made about that child’s future. Judge Soukup reached out to the community for help and the first court appointed special advocate or CASA program was established in his court in 1977. In 1996, the Federal Child Abuse and Prevention Treatment Act was amended to include CASA volunteers as one of the court’s options for guardian ad litem appointment.

By 2003, the concept of citizen volunteers advocating in court for abused and neglected children had expanded to a network of more than 900 CASA/GAL program offices in 49 states and the District of Columbia with volunteers providing millions of hours of service to children each year. The National Court Appointed Special Advocate Association (NCASAA) was created in 1982 to promote, assist and support development and growth of quality CASA/GAL programs. NCASAA is a membership organization providing technical assistance, information-sharing and national public awareness resources to the network of local programs. The work of the association is driven by this aim:
The National CASA Association, together with its state and local members, supports and promotes court appointed volunteer advocacy for abused and neglected children so that they can thrive in safe, permanent homes.

CASA/GAL volunteers are a liaison between the court and the community. Most citizens do not know what goes on behind the closed doors of the juvenile and family courts of this nation—but the CASA/GAL volunteers do. The CASA/GAL volunteer sees the pain and trauma of the child first hand. CASA volunteers understand the law and the court process. The CASA/GAL volunteer guides the child through the labyrinth and gives the child emotional support and comfort during a time of crisis. The CASA/GAL volunteer investigates the case and offers the Judge information in order to make an appropriate disposition—frequently this is information that no one else has located. The CASA/GAL volunteer knows what disposition the community expects and demands that the system be accountable to uphold the best interest of the child.

For more information, please see the Executive Summary of National CASA Standards and Standard 7E.

The US Department of Justice has supported CASA advocacy since 1985 through its Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.
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